Trailblazer: Alvin Huang

Pushing the boundaries of design, one Angeleno is changing the way we think about space.

alvin huang
Gregg Segal

As a designer, Alvin Huang has created near-zero-waste dining tables. As a professor and the director of graduate architecture programs at USC, he’s lectured on topics such as the interplay of coincidence, incidence, and interference in the creative process. And as the principal and founder of the firm Synthesis Design + Architecture, he’s conceived a 24,000-square-foot art gallery and event space called Uxmal in Los Angeles’s Arts District and mobilized volunteers to 3-D print personal protective equipment.

“Where a lot of people think of design as solutions, I think of design as problems,” Huang says. “It’s about coming up with a better problem, because more-interesting problems require more-interesting solutions.”

A prime example would be the Pure Tension Pavilion. The client, Volvo, needed a portable pavilion that would fit inside a shipping container to showcase its V60 hybrid car. What Huang and his team delivered was a pavilion that was small enough to fit inside the V60’s trunk—and could charge the car, too, via embedded solar panels.

“I want to be the type of architect who is thinking about the potential role for architecture, not just the required role,” he says. “I talk to students about the value of the runway versus the rack. What shows up on the runway, 99.5 percent of it will never see the light of day on a rack. But pretty much everything that’s on the rack has been influenced by the runway.”

Huang points out that the flu pandemic of 1918 was a key factor in the birth of modernism and the modern city, and that public parks emerged during Victorian times in response to outbreaks of cholera and yellow fever. “Now we have a very different context to think about, whether it’s what post-pandemic architecture looks like or architecture that is invested in being anti-racist,” he says. “2020 has given us a lot of opportunities to challenge ourselves to rethink and not just do.”•

Julia Herbst is a senior staff editor at Fast Company.
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